Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries

By Everett Ferguson | Go to book overview

13. Christian Pseudepigrapha and Apocrypha

References to baptism in early Christian pseudepigrapha and apocrypha do not add much to the understanding of the early Christian practice but by their novel stories and unusual features do reinforce the sense of baptism’s importance for Christians. The Acts of Thomas will be discussed in chapter 26 on third-century Syria.


Some Pseudepigrapha

I begin with Christian reworkings of Jewish pseudepigraphal documents.

The book of 4 Baruch (“The Things Omitted from Jeremiah the Prophet” or “The Rest of the Words of Baruch”) is a Jewish work from the early second century redacted by a Christian some time later, perhaps mid-second century. A presumably Christian addition is the following: “And you will prove them with the water of the Jordan; whoever does not listen will become known; this is the sign of the great seal

” (6.25).1 No test by the water of the Jordan figures in the book’s account of the return of the Babylonian exiles to Jerusalem. Is this an allusion to John’s baptism or to baptism in general? “Seal,” as seen in the last chapter, was used by early second-century authors for Christian baptism.

The Apocalypse of Sedrach originated as a Jewish work in the early Christian centuries. It received Christian additions at an unknown time and reached its final form much later in middle Byzantine times somewhere around 1000. In contrast to Hermas’s heavy emphasis on the necessity of baptism for salvation but sharing his interest in repentance, Sedrach puts the emphasis in salvation on repentance. In re-

1. S. E. Johnson, “4 Baruch,” in James H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Garden City: Doubleday, 1985), 2.414-415; translation, p. 422. Greek text and translation also by Robert A. Kraft and Ann-Elizabeth Purintun, Paraleipomena Jeremiou (Missoula: Society of Biblical Literature, 1972).

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